this one-semester course, she explained, each of which accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the total course content:
• earth systems and resources—the atmosphere (composition, structure, weather and climate, atmospheric circulation and the Coriolis effect, atmosphere-ocean interactions, El Niño/Southern Oscillation);
• the living world—natural ecosystem change (climate shifts, species movement, ecological succession); and
• global change—global warming (greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect, impacts and consequences of global warming, reducing climate change, relevant laws and treaties).
However, she added, climate is a theme that runs through most of the course; it arises naturally in the context of many of the topics covered, such as energy and the formation of fossil fuels. The course also addresses the human impacts of global warming, such as the spread of diseases and increases in mosquito populations and ranges based on temperature changes. Students are asked to go beyond the environmental impacts and address such issues as the potential effects of environmental changes on society and economic conditions.
AP environmental science is one of the fastest-growing AP courses, Lionberger noted, averaging annual growth rates of 17 to 20 percent per year. However, just over 100,000 students took the course in 2010 (out of over 3 million students who took all AP courses in 2010). Students are generally excited about this course, she added, and the course design makes it easy for teachers to engage students through fieldwork, helping them see the material’s relevance to their lives. One challenge for AP environmental science teachers is that few students come to the course having previously taken an earth systems or earth sciences course, whereas students in other AP science classes have often already taken a year’s worth of coursework in the subject. Thus, AP environmental science introduces students to a wide range of material. Lionberger observed that, “it’s an introduction to probably ten different majors that you could spend three years of intense coursework on. It really is a challenge to try to balance all of these topics and give students a broad but deep understanding.”
This challenge is one of the focuses of the redesign of the course, Lionberger noted. “They are moving away from what, as a teacher, you’d call the march of topics into depth of understanding. Instead of spitting out information, students will be required to justify, argue, look at data rationally, and make an argument for their decisions,” she explained. The program is also working on improving resources for teachers—not only for the AP teachers, but also for teachers at the elementary and middle